Community cats put to work in Chicago

In an overly dramatic headline on one news media website, the author states that “1,000 feral cats unleashed on Chicago’s streets to fight rat problem”. That is not quite the way it is because the Tree House Humane Society have a “Cats at Work” programme in which they employ community cats as a deterrent to rats in Chicago. Community cats are not quite the same as true feral cats. They are often semi-domesticated or even fully domesticated but prefer to live within the community and outside direct human ownership.

Chicago community cat with remains of a squirrel
Chicago community cat with remains of a squirrel. Photo: Katie Chasm on the Facebook ‘Chicago Community Cats TNR’ page.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

What is correct, though is that this organisation has placed 1,000 community cats with businesses in Chicago over a 10-year period and in doing so they have helped to combat Chicago’s rat infestation. Sarah Liss of Tree House told WGN (a news media outlet): “We’ve had a lot of clients tell us that before they had cats, they would step outside their house and rats would actually run across their feet. Cats are placed two or three at a time into residential or commercial settings in order to provide environmentally friendly rodent control.”

The property and business owners provide sustenance for the cats together with shelter, and in return the cats do their work for them in deterring rats. It is the way it should be. It is a program which harks back to the original relationship between humans and the first domestic cats on the planet.

Tree House say that, not infrequently, their cats become members of the family or part of the business team and some businesses and people open Instagram accounts for their working community cats. I love the idea of celebrating the work of community cats on social media. Making a working cat a celebrity is fantastic. As far as I am concerned it is far better than some fancy purebred, hairless creature becoming a feline celeb because they look strange. Far better that a cat is a celebrity because of the work that they do than their odd appearance.

Tree House admit that their community cats don’t necessarily kill rats but they do deter them which is the goal. People who dislike feral cats say that they don’t get rid of rats because they don’t attack and kill them. I tend to agree that feral cats often do not attack rats because rats are quite dangerous to cats. They can be large and aggressive and a cat can suffer a nasty bite. There is no advantage to a cat attacking a rat under those circumstances because the only point for an attack is for food. These community cats are cared for. But the essential part of this process is that they deter, as mentioned, the presence of rodents with their pheromones, Liss said. She makes the point: “That’s enough to keep the rats away.”

Chicago is one of America’s “rattiest” cities and has been for six years in a row by the extermination company Orkin.

Tree House say that there can be a variety of reasons why trapped and neutered community cats cannot be returned to their former colonies. One of them is that their colony was in and around a building that has been demolished or the location has become dangerous. That’s why they started the program. They place two or three cats at the time into commercial and residential settings. It is rodent control which is environmentally friendly. I would argue that this is far better than using poisons which are a hazard to non-targeted animals.

If you are interested in the program then please click on this link and apply.

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